Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, enjoys a level of esteem and influence that is perhaps unmatched by any other NGO. Their researchers and representatives have participated in countless summits and congresses and have near-universal access to some of the biggest media outlets in the world. Human rights are, of course, an extremely important and noble cause to take up, perhaps now more than ever.
But we must also be wary of biased, inaccurate, and even false claims of abuse being used to justify intervention and further human rights abuses.
The Revolving Door
In an open letter to the organization, over 100 academics, journalists, and human rights activists, including two Nobel Prize Laureates, wrote that "HRW's close ties to the U.S. government call into question its independence."
The letter is scathing and questions not just HRW's supposed impartiality but the very foundation of its stated motivation. It also calls out, by name, specific employees with blatant conflicts of interest such as Tom Malinowski.
Before becoming HRW's Washington advocacy director, Malinowski served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton, as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights & Labor under John Kerry. During his time with HRW, he has defended both the US-backed slavers who throw Libya into chaos and "renditions," the CIA's practice of kidnapping, torturing, and bouncing untried suspects around black sites for indefinite periods of time.
There's also Michael Shifter, a sitting member of HRW's Americas advisory division and the former director of the National Endowment for Democracy, a US-funded organization dedicated to aiding, if not forcing, the process of privatization throughout Latin America. The NED has been described by Allen Weinstein, a founding member, as "[doing] a lot of what was done covertly ... by the CIA." Shifter has also been one of the most vocal critics of the Venezuelan government which he has branded a "dictatorship" despite its overwhelming popular support.
The fact is, many who have been instrumental in making and implementing US foreign policy have gone on to be key decision makers for HRW. This dangerously blurs the line between where the US government stops and HRW begins. This is what makes its "revolving door" policy with the US government so disturbing and what makes its claims of "accurate fact-finding [and] impartial reporting" so hard to believe.
With that in mind, let's take a look at a few stories which HRW has gotten dangerously wrong for seemingly no other reason than to justify US foreign policy:
Xinjiang, home of the Uyghurs, a minority in China, has made many headlines recently after a shocking but entirely baseless story stemming from an ISIS sympathizer alleging that the Chinese government was imprisoning Muslims went viral. Perhaps building off of the outrage this elaborate lie inspired, HRW published the above article not long after. It describes, in comically Orwellian terms, the practice of "homestays" by Chinese officials.
HRW writes that "During these visits, families are required to provide officials with information about their lives and political views, and are subjected to political indoctrination. ... Muslim families across Xinjiang are now literally eating and sleeping under the watchful eye of the state." HRW demands that "The Chinese government should immediately end this visitation program, which violates rights to privacy and family life and the cultural rights of ethnic minorities."
This is a disgusting and inexcusable manipulation of the truth.
Xinjiang, as an autonomous region which does not get its policy directly from Beijing, is one of the last few provinces with a real poverty problem. Since the 1980s, China has been carrying out an aggressive and ambitious campaign to completely eliminate poverty in the nation. They are set to finally do so by 2020.
Now, this is no simple task. With barely 40 million people living in poverty in a nation of 1.4 billion, less than one percent, the hard work has only just begun. But China has declared that it is "going all out" to make this dream a reality. Hence, the Becoming Family campaign.
President Xi Jinping meeting with Muslim clerics in Xinjiang.Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Affairs
The campaign is an effort to build unity between and equalize China's many ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Xinjiang has been a huge focus of this campaign because it is home to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a violent separatist group of religious extremists who have killed over 100 in multiple terror attacks across the country.
Though HRW claims that officials have been "[warning] people against the dangers of ... ideologies and identities that the government finds threatening," President Xi Jinping, in his visit to Xinjiang, vowed to safeguard the region's many cultures and urged the Uyghur people to "cherish ethnic unity." The government has also banned anti-Muslim hate speech.
Xinjiang has also been the beneficiary of many new development programs which have caused the region's GDP to far outpace the national average. This would not be possible without hands-on, face-to-face work like these home stays.
These policies are actually quite old and combine Mao and Deng era innovations to build a working and unique anti-poverty program. Rather than handing responsibility off to far away bureaucrats, cadres of workers and planners are mobilized to where they're needed to deal with actual concerns raised by the people, not powerful interest groups or careerist politicians. Obviously, these officials are going to be discussing things like politics and the economy. This is not to indoctrinate or to police anyone but to get a real understanding of what needs to be done, straight from the mouths of real, everyday people.
Having left all of this out, HRW then goes on to betray the basic premise of the entire article by noting that, "[officials] typically stay with Muslim families, though sometimes cadres are dispatched to stay with Han families."
Of course, they're staying mostly with Muslim families. The region is mostly Muslim!
What we're seeing here is that the Chinese government is actively refusing to discriminate. What would be wrong and discriminatory is if these officials were staying only or mostly with Han families and ignoring the needs of the Muslim population. Instead, the Chinese government is ensuring that the best will be done for the most people, especially those who may need it the most, minorities.
HRW's Executive Director Contradicted Himself on Syria Two Times in Four Days
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director of HRW and a former federal prosecutor who worked on the Iran-Contra investigation, has been gunning for Syria for years. Never has he cared much about accuracy or ethics. Roth has used photos of cities destroyed by US bombings and blamed the destruction on the Syrian government, is an ardent al-Qaeda apologist, and has slandered everyone, including Syrian nuns, who've called into question the warmongering propaganda circulating throughout the west.
His most obvious blunder, however, took place in late December 2015 when he tweeted two contradictory conspiracy theories, back-to-back, in the span of four days.
His first tweet implied that Zahran Alloush, the leader of Jaish al-Islam, a terrorist group too extreme for ISIS, was actually something of a moderate whose death at the hands of the Syrian Army was an effort to eliminate "moderate" opponents.
This is a conspiracy theory. There is zero evidence backing this up. The article Roth cites here does not claim or even hint at anything Roth is saying. Moreover, it is utterly contemptible to imply that this terrorist, this butcher, was moderate in any way. It is, however, entirely consistent with his history of terrorist apologies.
However, the narrative gets even more confused four days later when Roth did a complete about-face on the issue.
Now, according to Roth, Alloush was, in fact, a terrorist, but he was released from prison by Assad himself for some vague propaganda reason. Also, right after letting him out, Assad had him killed.
This is nonsense even by conspiracy theory standards.
Why would anyone release an enemy leader, a man full of useful intel, right back into the hands of his army? Did Assad get bored and figure he needed more of a challenge?
Glaring logical inconsistencies aside, even if this really is the case and the Syrian government's plan was to let this monster loose to "taint" the so-called uprising, why would they then kill him?
This second article comes from some little-known professor in Oklahoma's blog which features constant praise of terrorist groups and constant condemnation of Assad for trying to stop them. The good professor claims that Alloush was released from prison in 2011 but, not only can I not find any evidence that he was released from prison, I can't find evidence he was ever arrested in the first place. It appears this key point was pulled right out of the air before being served up by Roth to his sycophants.
Naturally, the question must be asked, which is it? Did Assad kill Alloush the moderate to empower one the Syrian government's greatest enemies, ISIS, just to win some kind of moral high ground? Or did he release Alloush the terrorist from prison to make the other terrorists look even worse? Neither theories make sense, both rely on speculation, distortion of fact, and outright lies, and neither can honestly be taken seriously. The same can be said for the entire western narrative on Syria.
In this mean little dispatch, published this June, HRW's Leila Swan takes a turn at rattling the saber and urges the UN to interfere in yet another nation's democracy.
As is standard, a laundry list of abuses and horror is leveled against the Venezuelan government but zero evidence is offered to back any of it up. Not one single source is used here. Apparently, it's all just common sense.
Well, since HRW is too busy to bother, let's fact check this real quick.
It begins: "No one was surprised when Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro was re-elected last May, or when the opposition alleged voting irregularities. Unofficial reports estimated low voter turnout, less than 40%, despite government officials' frantic attempts to increase participation."
Q: Was voter turnout "less than 40%?"
Venezuela's National Electoral Council puts voter turnout at 48%, though most independent organizations put that number closer to 46%. It has been pointed out that this is a historic low. This is because the government's main opposition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, boycotted the election, an old tactic of opposition parties who know they can't get the votes.
Now, these numbers were not put out all that recently. Accurate and credible statistics were available at least a month before Swan published her dispatch. It seems she put so much effort into painstakingly combing through "unofficial reports" that she forgot to do a simple google search.
You may ask, are her "unofficial reports" more credible? Perhaps they are. We may never know, as they go uncited.
She continues: "the elections were rejected by democracies worldwide. The Lima Group – comprised now of 13 Latin American states together with Canada – condemned the elections the following day and refused to accept the result's legitimacy."
Q: Can the Lima Group be trusted?
A: Hell no.
The Lima Group is a collection of imperialist stooges and neoliberal dictators who get together periodically to bully and intimidate any Latin American country that dares to oppose the neocolonial order that keeps Latin America subservient to the west and to the world market. As if to illustrate this fact, just before condemning Venezuela's democracy, the Lima Group met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a move which Bolivian Ambassador Juan Ramón Quintana, among others, described as, "the prelude of a US military intervention."
It's interesting to note also that the Lima Group (as well as the US) recognizes the 2017 election of Juan Orlando Hernández as President of Honduras despite even more widespread allegations of fraud.
Even more interesting, one member state of the Lima Group is Columbia, a nation whose government, depending on who you ask, has either turned a blind eye to or actively participated in "social cleansing," the murder of homeless people, street children, suspected criminals, and anyone else whose mere presence might ruin a cocktail party. Both the Lima Group and HRW have ignored this classicide, a disgusting but entirely unsurprising double standard.
Swan again: "Severe food shortages make it extremely difficult for many families to feed their children, and the ruthless government crackdown has led to thousands of arrests [and] hundreds of civilians prosecuted by military courts."
This one's a twofer. We'll start with the food shortages.
Q: Is the government to blame for food shortages?
Imperialists and the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution have been quick to blame Venezuela's food shortages on government mismanagement. This simply is not the case. The Venezuelan government has more than enough money. Healthcare, housing, and education have improved considerably under Maduro, an improvement even from Chavez and his great reforms. The problem is that the opposition, the right-wing terrorists, have been destroying food shipments.
Over fifty tons of food were destroyed in just one instance of right-wing violence last year. Another forty tons destined for children in Venezuela's rural south were burned in a firebombing by opposition protesters cloaked, ironically, in shirts and flags depicting the Madonna and Child.
Protinal Proagro, a private Venezuelan food producer, was caught burying over 100 million perfectly healthy chicks alive by the Argentina-based new outlet, Primicias 24. It should come as no surprise that this shocking story of sabotage and kulakery was completely ignored by the western media.
Now to the "crackdown."
Q: Is the opposition a military threat to Venezuela?
In 2007, journalist and lawyer Eva Golinger, a vehement Chavista, called out several journalists whom she accused of accepting bribes from the US government in exchange for spreading pro-US, anti-socialist sentiment. This backfired spectacularly. The government and the left mostly ignored the accusations while the right, then much smaller, accused Golinger of trying to start a political witch hunt. The story fizzled out without many noticing or caring.
There was, however, one very important listener who took this story very seriously, the US Embassy in Caracas.
A cable, later exposed by Wikileaks, 'IV Participants and USAID Partners Outed, Again,' reveals that, though Golinger had only managed to embarrass herself by going public with her accusations, she was right. The US was indeed funneling money to Chavez's opponents. This was confirmed in another cable from 2004, 'Update on the USAID/OTI Venezuela Program,' which detailed several programs costing more than $450,000 working to "provide training to political parties on the design, planning, and execution of electoral campaigns." One program would specifically build and fund "campaign training schools" to recruit campaign managers and promote "the development of viable campaign strategies and effectively communicating party platforms to voters."
In short, the US government was manufacturing opposition.
What's all the more threatening is that many of the same rich right wingers behind the failed 2002 coup which attempted to violently overthrow Chavez are now the leaders of the so-called "democratic" opposition. To name just one, there's Henrique Capriles Radonski, founder of the right-wing party, Primero Justicia (a party founded in part with funding from the NED), who in 2002 stormed a Cuban Embassy with other right-wing terrorists to try and kill Venezuelan officials believed to be seeking refuge there. This champion of peace and democracy is now a top opposition leader and the governor of Miranda.
We can only assume that some of these same conspirators were behind the failed 2017 attack on a Valencia military base by "anti-Maduro rebels."
Note also how leniently this terrible authoritarian dictatorship has treated violent anti-government extremists who actually tried to overthrow the government. Not only were most let go, some are now in positions of power. Judging by how they've used this power, is it any wonder why the government may not be taking any more chances with foreign-funded terrorists? They are not going to let some scorned oligarchs force the working people back into poverty and destitution and, as the election has shown, the working people support their government.
Swan concludes: "Venezuela's government needs to know the international community is watching — everywhere. ... The time has come for the [UN Human Rights Council] to use its voice to speak out before this tragic downward spiral becomes irreversible."
When shown the whole picture, how can a call for UN intervention seem like anything but imperialism?
Activists for Injustice
HRW has a very selective sense of outrage which conveniently and consistently aligns with US foreign interests. It seems their accusing finger lands exclusively on those who challenge US imperialism and hegemony. This would be bad enough on its own without the constant influx of former US officials, even top-ranking foreign policy staffers, into the ranks of HRW. Knowing this, one can only conclude that, consciously or not, HRW is little more than the propaganda wing of the CIA, the Pentagon, and the State Department.
Please do yourself a favor and take anything you hear from HRW with a very large grain of salt. Hell, just ignore it. They do not have only human rights in mind.